At the debut of his Variations on an Original Theme in 1899, English composer and cryptographer Edward Elgar hinted at a riddle of sorts hidden in the work. The idea is that the 14 variations in the piece are, in fact, variations of a particular piece of music. "So what is that enigmatic theme that supposedly runs through the entire work but is never played?" asks Daniel Estrin writes at the New Republic. Well, that question about the so-called Enigma Variations has been the biggest mystery in classical music for more than a century, the story explains. "It has been understood to be a well-known melody that would harmonize with the music if played along with it," but Elgar never gave it up. And while countless musicians and sleuths have tried and failed to solve the puzzle, Estrin recounts how a 47-year-old violin teacher from Plano, Texas, believes he's succeeded.
Bob Padgett says the secret melody is the 16th-century German hymn "Ein feste Burg" by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther.The complicated explanation of this theory is laid out on Padgett's blog, along with various clues that he says support it. For example, Padgett says Elgar "literally gave away the answer" when he gave a book that quotes "Ein feste Burg" to the conductor who premiered the Variations. But he goes much, much deeper than that, using code-breaking techniques to substitute letters for notes to reveal what he says are hidden messages in the work. Not all scholars aren't convinced—and some even think Elgar was playing an elaborate practical joke. But Padgett says they aren't willing to accept that an "outsider" could solve the enigma, especially one who claims he did it with God's help. Click for the full piece, which notes that an envelope to be opened in 2034 may provide the definitive answer. (Read more classical music stories.)